Over at Bad Cripple, William Peace wrote an interesting post on assisted suicide. On my old blog, I had an entire category of posts on end-of-life issues, but here, I never discussed my views on euthanasia and assisted suicide as far as I remember.
I live in the Netherlands, the world’s first country to legalize euthanasia. Just days ago, I wrote on my Dutch blog about a book about a GP’s daily practice, in which he openly discusses euthanasia. I also read this book a few years ago that exclusively diiscusses a GP’s take on this topic. The subtitle of the book calls this GP an “euthanasia physician”.
Unlike Peace, I am not principly opposed to euthanasia or assisted suicide. I do realize there are people who are not pressured at all to kill themselves but want to die anyway. This includes people with a diagnosed medical condition as well as people who are “suffering life”.
I do, however, recognize the explicit and implicit discrimination in euthanasia-related law and ethics. People with terminal cancer can be euthanized if they so desire without much further ado. Infants with severe birth defects can be euthanized shortly after birth if the parents want this. However, a case where a doctor assisted in the suicide of a person who was “suffering life”, led to criminal charges.
The law in the Netherlands says, among other things, that a person must experience unbearable and hopeless suffering to be considered eligible for euthanasia. It isn’t stated that this suffering should be because of a diangosed medical condition. However, “suffering” is such a subjective, vague concept. Everyone suffers sometimes. In a society that is dominated by currently non-disabled people, however, it is a common assumption that people with disabilities suffer more than those without them.
As I said, I for one do not principly oppose euthanasia. It’s a much better, less painful way to end your life than conventional suciide methods. I do not say I advocate suicide – it’s a very sad, tragic thing. I also do feel that people who are suicidal need to be helped in every way possible to overcome these feelings. The thing is, we cannot fully prevent suicide.
What I do oppose is doctors suggesting euthanasia. About ten years ago, there was a case of a child born with severe spina bifida whose doctor suggested euthanizing the child. The doctor happened to be my former neonatologist, the one who said in 1986 that they were just keeping me alive and not to interfere, and who said in 2004 that he wonders about some preemies what the heck he’s done keeping them alive. The parents, like Heather Kiln Lanier and her husband (linked to in Peace’s article), believed the doctor was pushing them to consent to euthanasia, which led to a formal complaint. The doctor defended himself in the media, saying it was “just a suggestion”. Well, I do understand doctros have some say in euthanasia because they have to provide the means, but I think they only should be countering patients’ wishes when they do not want to euthanize them. Research on preemies, after all, shows that doctors are more opposed to aggressive treatments and want fewer preemies to be allowed to live than parents.
Speaking of parents, I mean no offense to Heather Kiln Lanier, but parents should not have the right to decide to have their children euthanized. As I said, newborns in the Netherlands can be euthanized under the so-called Groningen Protocol. Babies and children under twelve cannot, or maybe now they can, because the last time I checked on this topic was about a year ago. In any case, doctors are advocating allowing euthanasia on children under twelve with parental consent. You could say that a newborn does not have anything to want as they don’t have self-awareness (this is philosopher Peter Singer’s argument for infanticide). You could not say the same of a child. They may not have the cognitive ability to make informed decisions on medical treatment, but the darn well know when their parents want to have them killed.
I am almost anti-parent when it comes to this. Thankfully, parents like Kiln Lanier allow me to see how much some parents can fight for their children’s right to a fullfilling life with as little discrimination against them as possible. Kiln Lanier definitely respects her daughter’s right to self-determination.
My view on euthanasia basically comes down to this: no-one can decide for another person that they suffer so much that they should be “allowed” to die. Doctors only have the means to providde euthanasia, so they should be allowed to refuse to do it when a patient asks for it. However, they should never suggest a person be euthanized.
This does mean that children and people with cognitive impairmetns usually won’t be able to get euthanized. So be it. I’d rather keep a few people alive against their will than risk killing people who don’t want it. And just for your information, peoople with even the most severe cognitive impairments do have self-awareness, so sod your Singerian arguments there.